Due to our culture of convenience, computers, and now Covid, most of us are more sedentary than ever before. One of the easiest ways to get more active is to start tracking your steps when you walk.
But how many steps should you do a day? And, is it actually effective?
A common suggestion is 10,000 steps per day. But, that’s not actually founded in any scientific evidence. So, let’s take a closer look.
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Where did 10,000 Steps Come From?
Like most misinformation, the 10,000 steps myth can be attributed to marketers.
In 1965, the Yamasa Clock company, of Japan, created a pedometer called “Manpo-kei”, which loosely translates to “10,000 steps meter”. This became a marketing gimmick for the device, and the 10,000 step benchmark has stuck, likely because it’s memorable advice.
How Many Steps Should You Be Getting?
There’s nothing wrong with getting 10,000 steps. And, if you’re getting that many steps per day, keep up the good work.
But, according to the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) you should target 7,000-9,000 steps per day to meet exercise recommendations.
Obtaining 7,000-9,000 steps per day is thought to result in health benefits similar to achieving the recommended amount of 150 minutes per week of moderate level physical activity.
What if You Get Fewer Steps Per Day?
Even if you can’t get to 7,000 steps per day, there are health benefits at lower levels.
One recent study from Harvard Medical School suggested that even 4,400 steps a day can significantly lower the risk of death for women. They found that risk of death further decreased with the more steps people took, until leveling off around 7,500 steps per day.
So, even if you’re not hitting that 7,000 – 9,000 step goal, you’ll still benefit from getting more steps. That’s because, any step you get can be a step further away from the dangers of a sedentary lifestyle.
The Dangers of a Sedentary Lifestyle
Over the last century, humans have continued to engineer activity out of our daily patterns. With the invention of the car, communities adapted to roadways, and communities became less walkable.
With the Information Age, more people work from home than ever before. And even if you don’t work from home, you likely spend a majority of your day sitting behind a computer. I certainly do.
The benefits of the technology are irrefutable when we look at the increased ability to communicate and travel. But, as a species, we are designed to move. And, as we move less, and sit more, there are increased dangers to our health.
- Up to 49% increased risk of early death for those who are the most sedentary
- 112% increased risk for type 2 diabetes
- 147% increased risk for heart disease
As someone who spends a larger part of his working day sitting behind a computer, I find this scary.
But, the news is not all doom and gloom.
As it turns out, you can start to gain significant health benefits by simply increasing your daily step count.
Yup. That’s what I’m saying.
The Health Benefits of Walking
Many great thinkers have been known to have an affinity for walking.
The Greek philosopher Aristotle was known to frequently give lectures while walking around the grounds of his Athens school. His school, the Peripatetic school, loosely translates to “walking around school.”
Given this little piece of history, the mental and cognitive benefits of walking may come as no suprise.
The Mental Benefits of Walking
Walking increases blood flow to the brain, which also improves cognitive performance. Elementary to college students were found to have improved memory, and mathematical reasoning following just 10 minutes of walking.
A smaller study, on working professionals showed that by walking during lunchtime, they reported an increased sense of satisfaction with their work, and improved energy and concentration.
This is just the tip of the iceberg. Multiple studies underscore the benefits of exercise and walking for reducing symptoms of anxiety and depression.
If you’re interested in exploring the mental benefits of exercise further, check out the book Spark.
The Benefits of Walking for Blood Pressure
During exercise, our blood pressure increases to meet the increased physical demand. However, after exercise, blood pressure tends to decrease to a lower level than it was prior to exercise.
Taking a regular brisk walk for just 30-45 minutes per day can decrease blood pressure by several points.
A recent Australian study found that a 30 minute morning walk could help reduce blood pressure over an 8 hour period, and the effects were further improved when people took frequent 3 minute walking breaks throughout the day.
Benefits of Walking on Managing and Preventing Type 2 Diabetes
Insulin resistance is one of the characteristics of type 2 diabetes and prediabetes. If your body becomes resistant to insulin, it’s difficult to pull sugar from your blood into the tissues that need it. So, your blood sugar rises, which can cause damage to your body.
Walking can help manage blood sugar by increasing insulin sensitivity. Regularly walking can also lower A1c levels, which represents the 3 month blood sugar average in your body. A 2012 study found that for those with type 2 diabetes, every 2,600 steps was associated with a 0.2% lower A1c.
Additionally, those who walk about 20 minutes per day have been found to have a 30% lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
Can You Lose Weight By Walking?
Yes you can. Keep in mind, proper nutrition plays a key role in weight loss, but walking can effectively contribute to a weight loss plan.
In one study, people lost 4 lbs more, on average, when they restricted daily calories by 500-800, and included a walking routine of just 3 hours per week.
And, you don’t even need to get your daily steps in all at once. A separate study split participants into two groups: group one walked once daily for 50 minutes, group two walked twice per day for 25 minutes. The group with shorter bouts of walking, split throughout their day actually lost 3.7 lbs more weight, on average.
How Many Calories Does Walking Burn?
If you’re trying to lose weight, developing a daily walking routine can definitely contribute to your goal by helping you to burn more calories.
The amount of calories that you burn depends on a few variables, including:
- Walking pace
- Grade of walking surface
However, the following table gives you an idea of how many calories walking on a level surface for 30 minutes might burn.
You can boost your calorie burn when walking by walking uphill, or increasing your speed.
Steps to Getting More Steps
Alright, now that we’ve identified all of the benefits of walking, let’s get those steps in. Here are a few tips to get started.
Start by tracking your current steps. You don’t need to have a step tracker to do this. Most smartphones have a built in step counter, or you can download one from your App Store.
The goal of this step is to just count your steps to see where you’re at. From there you can set a goal.
Set a goal that’s beyond your current level. You don’t need to start by targeting 5,000 or 10,000 steps a day. Instead, start with where you’re at. If you’re currently getting less than 2,000 steps per day, aim to hit 2,000. Then workup to 5,000.
Don’t aim for perfection, just aim for progress.
When you track your steps and set a goal, you’ll start looking for easy places to gain more steps throughout the day, such as the following:
Take the stairs. If you live or work in a high-rise, skip the elevator. Not only will you get more steps, you’ll increase the intensity of your walk, raise your heart rate, and burn more calories.
Park further away. Tired of looking for parking? No problem. Just park and walk further… your heart will thank you.
Walk instead of drive. Before you hop in the car, ask yourself “can I walk instead?” Sometimes this won’t be realistic, but even if you turn one or two drives into a walk, you’ll likely raise your steps significantly.
Take a hike. When the weathers nice, there’s no place better than the great outdoors. Research even shows that walking outdoors in nature has more benefits than walking in urban settings. Do yourself a favor… and take a walk.
Bring man’s best friend. My dogs often remind me how important it is to exercise and move. If they sit too long they’ll eventually wander up and tell me that it’s time to go outside. And, dogs look like the happiest creatures alive when you take them for a walk. What does that tell you?
What do you think? Can you get more steps in your day? If so, how?
Does this sound like something you could get benefit from?
There’s only one way to find out. Lace up those walking shoes, grab the dog, and strut your stuff.
Until next time… happy walking.
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